I ALWAYS TRY to live by the motto “learn something new every day” and it always comes true when I get to spend a day out with my colleague Matthew. Matthew is a plant scientist in my team and is my go-to weed and agri-chemical expert.
When Matthew and I spent a couple of weeks training staff together recently, we would occasionally abscond afterwards to hunt for hidden areas of new and exciting weeds. We found a couple of real doozies – I’ll share them with you in upcoming columns.
This column is about the final of the ‘dandelion’ weeds. Hawkbit ( Leontodon taraxacoides) is a common perennial weed found in most parts of New Zealand. It’s a native of Europe and North Africa but it made its way to New Zealand in the early days of settlement, presumably as a contaminant of pasture seed. As with the other dandelion look-alikes it’s a member of the daisy ( Asteraceae) family, along with thistles, lettuce, artichokes and, of course, daisies.
I always like to throw in a couple of interesting facts about a weed here, but I’ll admit it was a little tricky to find anything for hawkbit. The family name Leontodon comes from the Greek word ‘lion’s tooth’ and refers to the jagged leaves. In medieval times it was thought that hawks nibbled on plants like this to gain better eyesight, which is why we have hawkbit, hawksbeard and hawkweed, but I’m not sure about the veracity of that last fact.
As I’ve been saying for the past few issues, it can be tricky to distinguish these weeds from each other. They all germinate and then form a ground-hugging rosette of leaves that all appear very similar. You can start to tell them apart at this stage - hawkbit and catsear produce a number of fine hairs on the leaf while hawksbeard and dandelion are hairless. Hawkbit leaves are narrower than catsear and have quite distinct, shallow lobes.
In spring, hawkbit produces its flowering stem and then it becomes easier to identify. It produces a single flowering stem (unlike catsear and hawksbeard which are branched) and the stem is thin and wiry, quite unlike the single, fleshy and hollow flowering stem of dandelion.
How to control it
Hawkbit is a perennial weed that can dump a large number of wind-dispersed seeds very quickly each year so controlling it can be a bit of a mixed bag as it really depends on where you find it.
If you have it in pasture then the best method of control is maintaining a dense pasture sward – keep your pasture plants well fertilised and thick and that way there is nowhere for the weed to strike and establish.
If it is in a lawn or it has already invaded a pasture then chemical control is the only real option. Thankfully it is easier to control than others in this group as it doesn’t have quite the same long tap root of dandelion to help it recover from spraying. 2,4 D, MCPA, Dicamba and Versatil are all good options but remember to read the label carefully and be aware that these chemicals may be particularly harmful to beneficial plants like clover.
hallways, and every room facing north to benefit from the winter sun.
Placement of windows was also important because the couple had a different perspective to most other homeowners.
“We put a higher priority on facing the sun rather than the views.”
They chose cob for the building’s structure, something that is still an unusual choice in NZ.
“The earth walls are fundamentally thermal mass, like oven bricks,” says Phill. “They soak up the sun during winter days and release it at night, rather like a night storage heater. Yet on a hot day in summer they keep the house cool.”
The clay on site that would make it difficult to create their (now) thriving organic garden, complete with vegetable beds, soft fruit cage and fruit trees, proved a bonus when they decided to build a cob house. Sand and clay were both sourced on their property and mixed with straw, meaning they didn’t require cement. A tractor with rotary hoe was used to turn the mixture as it was too hard to mix by hand.
The floor had to be concrete to support the building (cob is not permitted as a foundation). In the living room, 40mm-thick adobe tiles sit on top of the concrete.
The couple preferred to avoid chemicals in the building process. This was a challenge, even when you have a pine forest
out how to do all the joinery for the windows, doors and finishings, and built the cedar windows and the macrocarpa frames they sit in. He learned most of it as he went along but says he did ask for help or advice when he was unsure.
Kerryn helped with all aspects of the preparation and building work too. She then turned her crafting skills to the walls, completing her first mosaic in the kitchen, a beautiful design that runs the length of one wall, something she says was a lot of fun.
The back walls of the house are cut into a hillside which allows for the ground to act as a form of insulation. Their huge pantry is built against this back wall making it just like a cellar, perfect for storing food and preserves.
“Even without heating, the house is a constant 15°C in winter,” says Phill. “You don’t get those day/night time temperature fluctuations common in other houses.”
Five years after they started, they moved in. The kitchen, living room, bathroom and composting toilet were all done, leaving the upper level bedrooms unfinished. They stuck firmly to their plan to only move in once the lower level was completely finished, and now they’re in a race to have the bedrooms ready for this summer’s guests.
Living so close to Te Waikoropupu Springs – one of the biggest attractions for tourists to Golden Bay is just minutes from their home – is certainly a bonus. They plan to call their accommodation Sanctuary Springs, and it definitely is.